33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Jesus digs deeper than legislating the rules of oath making. He presents something better than making promises with a Heavenly co-signer. The third of the Ten Commandments speaks to this underlying issue of ‘using’ God to make us look good.
Exodus 20:7 (Amplified Bible)
7You shall not use or repeat the name of the Lord your God in vain [that is, lightly or frivolously, in false affirmations or profanely]; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
As a boy I understood that using certain names and phrases were highly inappropriate. To this day I still avoid frivolously using the expressions:
• Jesus Christ
• Christ Almighty
• Oh My God
• God Damn It
• Go To Hell
I was also taught not to use substitutes like Golly, Gosh darn it, Heck, Holy Cow, and so on. I was not as worried about that and say some expressions without thinking about it. At the heart of limiting my vocabulary is a reverence for God and His realm. I do not want to be guilty of using God’s Name in vain.
Every language and culture has cusswords. They usually involve the inappropriate use of god words and the so-called ‘dirty’ words that speak about bodily functions. Cusswords bring down the highest and holiest and lift up the most private and embarrassing of our body parts and activities. Swearists combine the holy and the profane for extra effect. Who hasn’t heard Raymond’s father exclaim, “Holy crap!”
But there is deeper issue than keeping a shortlist of taboo words off your tongue. Oaths, vows and curse words speak to an exaggerated perception of our self-perception. We believe that we are safe from God’s dealing with us. The Almighty is under no obligation to be your co-signer. You do not have superior integrity because you name the Name.
If Christians are honest, they will readily admit that a lack of personal integrity and character defects brought them to the place of needing a Savior. Our greatest sinfulness was not when we were dead in our sins prior to Salvation; but when we were made alive in Christ and knowingly chose to sin. Who hasn’t been in that place?
We cannot flippantly flash our ‘new-birth certificate’ as proof of personal integrity. Jesus calls us to honesty and humility. He says that ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are the straightest possible answers to securing trust and showing integrity.